Authors: SE Jakes
For my editor, Jennifer Miller, for helping me to make my stories the best they can be—and for loving these guys as much as I do.
He’d been Styx for literally as long as he could remember.
If there was a birth certificate that proved otherwise, he’d yet to stumble on it. His reissued one gave a date of birth that seemed reasonable, since his old hospital records were simply gone—it was as if he’d materialized out of nowhere. Having absolutely no memory of his youth before the age of sixteen didn’t help matters any. His first centered on waking up on a bench in Central Park, wandering into a gay club where he ended up crashing on a cot in the back for a while, until the owner invited him home.
The owner was Greg, who’d figured Styx for underage and had given him a refuge and a new life. The one who’d helped him get the new birth certificate and ID. At first, Styx had waited for the catch, assumed Greg wanted something from him. As it turned out, Greg did. He wanted Styx to grow up safe and sound, was paying it forward, the way a man had done for him years earlier.
Law had already been there about two years when Greg took Damon in, followed in swift succession by Styx. None of them were formally adopted by any means—CPS wouldn’t have looked kindly on a forty-year-old gay man taking in underage gay boys, but it had been aboveboard from the start, a light in all three men’s lives that ultimately saved them—from outside forces as well as themselves. It had been a real home—and Styx owed the man everything.
All three had been straddling the line between boy and man and had been drawn to Greg as if he were some sort of Guardian Angel. Styx had never changed his opinion of that.
Greg had never asked for a penny. He’d died about sixteen years ago and Styx still missed the hell out of him. Missed the other men as well. Styx had left them when he was almost twenty without so much as a note in the middle of the night when a threat from his past came out of the blue, and he turned himself in to the CIA a year later, when the burden of his past got too much to bear alone. For the past sixteen years, he’d lived like the spook he was.
He’d kept up with Law and Damon—both had gone the way of the military, and they remained friends, running clubs together up until a few months ago. He’d only allowed himself to visit Law three times, and although he’d never come right out and told Law or Damon what he was, both men had spent enough time around elite forces to be able to sniff out the fact that he was a spook.
It was what he did—who he was. And lately, it had him missing Law, the love of his damned life and the man he left behind, to the point where he was driving himself crazy.
But the past…it was coming for him again. Although he knew why, he still had yet to remember it for himself. And now, he had a chance to find out the full, fleshed-out version, and he was driving to reach the place where it would be delivered to him.
And so Styx walked up the stairs and closed the door, and he waited for the knock that would change his life.
LC slammed out of Crave, the BDSM club he used to be part owner of and where he never should’ve gone back to in the first place, got into his Porsche, and let it coast along the deserted streets. He willed himself to relax, let the music pound through him, but he knew that wouldn’t work.
No, he needed to fuck. He’d already fought, slamming the shit out of some asshole who’d tried to throw his weight around at the club. And LC, already primed for action, had taken over, ignoring Damon telling him to stand down.
Damon, his friend and other former owner of the club, had yanked him off the man and hadn’t said another word, and LC had left before he did or said something he’d regret.
He was so damned tired of regrets. Tired of being alone and thrashing around at night, dreaming of two different men—one he loved and one he was falling for.
Thing was, the past few weeks, the dreams had been…different. And it was time to start listening to where his subconscious was pushing him.
The houses flew by him and he knew where he had to go, the destination calling him like a beacon.
He headed up the walk and let himself in the main door, a skill he’d used widely and well for years, almost long forgotten, and it made him smile when he remembered it easily. The lock clicked open and he went up the three flights with stealth and thought about doing the same to the apartment door.
But he knocked instead, two hard bangs, and he heard movement inside. He hoped the man was alone, wanted him to be—needed him to be, even though he had no right to ask or expect that at all.
Where the hell have you been?
was written all over his face, and the man refused to let LC in at first. But LC persisted and Paulo relented, and finally LC barreled in, grabbing and kissing the man until he stopped resisting and twined his hands in LC’s hair and moaned into his mouth.
He practically carried the man back inside the apartment, kicked the door closed behind him before they tumbled to the floor, clothes ripping off, grunting, grabbing.
Then he pulled back. “I’ve been thinking about you. Dreaming about you…can’t stop.”
“About time,” was all the other man said before LC covered his mouth again with a kiss.
The knock startled him, although it shouldn’t have. Styx hesitated before opening the door—a highly trained, gun-carrying, wet-work assassin hesitated opening the damn door to his own apartment and yeah, maybe it was time to think about getting the hell out of Dodge.
But he opened it, the door to his past, took the envelope from the man’s hands and didn’t look him in the eye. His hands shook, making the fat envelope flutter in his fingers, the only sound in the otherwise silent room.
The world was silent at three in the morning, and typically, he liked that. Now, he longed for sounds, any sound but the tearing of the envelope and the unraveling of a life long buried by necessity.
He held that life in his hands, and the responsibility, the revelations, all threatened to crush him if he wasn’t careful.
For the first time in a long time he realized he no longer wanted to be careful.
Paulo wasn’t taking no for an answer, so LC had no choice but to concede to having dinner with the man. They were getting past the anonymous fucking stage and Paulo knew that, took advantage of him when he was weak from orgasms. Hence, the fancy goddamned dinner at an expensive restaurant where the detective obviously knew the staff. They got a private table in the back and appetizers began arriving without them having to place any orders. Paulo kept pouring the wine and LC got looser with each glass, and he knew he’d be going home with Paulo again that night for sure. Or maybe he’d take Paulo back to his new apartment for the first time, a new place, a fresh start…the same guy more than once, and that was a fucking record that had remained unbroken for ten years.
“Tell me what LC stands for,” Paulo murmured now. “Or I’ll tie you down and fuck it out of you.”
“That’s incentive to tell you?” LC asked as he scanned his menu for the main courses, not wanting to let Paulo see how turned on he got when Paulo spoke like that. Because he did so easily, his eyes hot, and LC remembered how good his body had felt against the younger man’s.
Before last night, it had been about three months since he’d seen him last. Paulo had come to visit LC in the hospital after he’d thwarted an attacker who’d been hurting men outside Crave. Before that, Paulo had given him a gift—a gift certificate, to be exact, for a tattoo, which LC hadn’t used yet. Paulo’s torso was close to being covered with them, intricate designs that swirled over muscles in his back and arms and made him that much goddamned harder to resist.
LC loved looking at them, loved tracing them with his tongue, his fingers, watching the way they moved when LC was pounding him, the way he had last night.
“I was glad you came over,” Paulo said after they’d finished the appetizers and waited on the next course.
LC had been surprised, too. He’d been restless for months and prowling the club scene no longer held his interest. Crave was sold and things were moving forward.
Everyone was moving forward and he’d been standing still. At first, there had been a lot to do with the sale of the club and the lofts and the construction of the new apartments he and Damon bought, along with the rest of the building. They were now living on opposite ends of the top floor, and the plan was to renovate and rent the rest of the apartments.
There was still a hell of a lot to do, but LC didn’t feel like handling any of it, especially not last night. No, he’d wanted to handle someone, and his car had pointed in the direction of Paulo’s place almost as if he’d had no control.
But LC knew that was bullshit.
Paulo had barely been able to get out a hello before LC had him pinned, telling Paulo he’d been dreaming about him before he could stop himself. After that, it was a blur of hands and tongues and
s, and then LC was agreeing to dinner, because he’d just taken the man without so much as a this-is-where-I’ve-been-for-the-past-few-months explanation.
He’d stayed through until the sun came up and straggled back to his new place, and now he was here, next to this man in this dark restaurant, and he’d been turned on from the time Paulo had picked him up.
If he was honest with himself, Paulo was handling him and LC really fucking liked it.
Paulo hadn’t asked him any more about the dreams LC had about him, and for that, LC was grateful. Because this, the tug in the stomach when Paulo looked at him, was new…the first time since Styx, and he knew this man could make him happy, if he allowed it.
He downed the rest of his wine and stood before he told Paulo that. “Headed to the restroom—I’ll be back.”
“I’d join you, but I have a reputation in this place,” Paulo said with a sly smile.
“I’m sure.” LC threaded his way through the back hallway, found the men’s room. He pissed and washed up in the private restroom, wiped his hands on a paper towel, and it was all normal. So normal.
Until the lights went out and shots rang out inside the restaurant and an arm came up across his body, a hand over his mouth, and his natural instinct to fight like hell was quelled with a single breath.
He’d recognize the man’s scent—his touch—blindfolded. Many a time he’d actually done so, but this situation was a thousand percent different.
“Not a word.” Styx’s voice, rough like gravel. Rougher when he was angry or aroused. His breath was warm and minty—Altoids. The man had always been addicted to them.
Damn, you remembered the oddest things when your ass was on the line. And speaking of asses, his was pressed hard to Styx’s groin…and the man’s arousal was unmistakable. Nice to know he wasn’t the only one affected by the close proximity.
He moved his head and Styx took his hand away.
“Paulo,” he said, and Styx answered, “Your friend’s safe—my associate has him.”
Good, that was good, but Jesus, what was going on here?
He heard the slight snick of a gun’s safety being released and then heavy footsteps. Whoever was coming wasn’t interested in stealth.
“Whatever happens, stay put in here. I’ll take care of everything.” Styx barely mouthed the words but LC heard them loud and clear. And then he was left alone in the dark, and yeah, that was the story of his goddamned life with and without Styx, and he listened and waited.
No more shots, but someone had been killed. LC had been around stealth and death long enough in the Army to the point where he could taste the violence. He’d been on the receiving end of it since birth.
Goddammit, LC, shake that shit off.
And then Styx was back, tugging at him, and LC resisted. “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what the hell’s going on out there.”
“There’s trouble. Now shut up and do what I say.”
“I’m so beyond listening to you.”
“You have no idea who and what you’re up against. Come with me,” Styx said, and LC reluctantly followed him into the restaurant’s storeroom, close to the parking lot. And even though it was dark as night inside the restaurant’s back room, LC would know the man, could practically see the dark blond hair, longer than it had been, eyes that never failed to mesmerize him, the hard body and even harder cock that had probed him earlier.
LC knew what he was up against—and he was powerless to stop it. And when he started to edge past Styx, Styx let him go at first and then pushed him hard against the wall by the door.
“Are you with that guy?” he whispered into LC’s neck, and he wanted to tell Styx not to do that.
Instead, he ground out, “His name is Paulo. And now you’re worried about my dating habits?”
“I’m always worried about you.”
“The not calling or writing is a great way to show that.”
“It’s the way it has to be.”
Has to be…not using the past tense meant that’s what would happen after Styx did whatever it was he needed to here. “What, exactly, is happening out there to get the CIA involved?”
“Can’t tell you.”